March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum launches Land Grant project

Tuesday, April 24 — Plants and produce filled tables Saturday afternoon instead of hardcover bestsellers inside the grandiose space formerly occupied by Barnes & Noble in downtown East Lansing.

In spaces where discounted coffee table books once littered straining shelves sat a projection screen, microphone and rows of folding chairs beneath a canvas banner labeled “Town Hall.” Approximately 150 people attended the kick-off event for “The Land Grant: Art, Agriculture, Sustainability,” an artist residency program, sponsored by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

“This is a super-casual community event: I actually meant to invite everyone to come sit on the floor up here,” said Alison Gass, Broad Museum curator and event coordinator, while introducing the guest speakers to seated attendees. Gass explained the Land Grant project will invite global artists “who are working on issues of land use, food, water, energy, with a focus on sustainability, ethical food production and ideas of living locally.”

Artists like Amy Franceschini and Fritz Haeg summarized their own work collaborating with farmers, urban planners and homeowners in cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco to turn suburban decay into social and sustainable acts of art like Haeg's “Edible Estates.”

Other stations included the “Totem Garden,” covered in colored construction paper for kid crafting, and an indoor farmer's market where the Barnes & Noble magazine racks used to be. At the counter where customers once ordered skim lattes from Starbucks, Michigan microbrewery Bell's Brewery set up a converted cooler to sell cold pints of the seasonal favorite Oberon — in biodegradable cups, of course.

In his presentation, Haeg confessed the real motivation behind his project, which helps turn front lawns into mini-organic farms. “George Bush was just re-elected,” he said, “and I decided I had to respond.”

Whatever it takes.